Wednesday 17 January 2018

Schmidt has a few regrets but Ulster point way to redemption

David Kelly

David Kelly

Leinster coach Joe Schmidt has revealed that he has some regrets about his side's faltering Heineken Cup defence as he welcomes back three key players for their desperate quarter-final qualification quest.

Brian O'Driscoll will return to European action tomorrow for the first time since the opening two victories in the competition while two more Lions stars, Rob Kearney and Luke Fitzgerald, are destined to make their Heineken Cup seasonal debuts.

All three missed the back-to-back defeats to competition favourites Clermont Auvergne which have so imperilled the champions' chances of reaching the knockout stages.

In all likelihood, Leinster require two bonus-point victories from their final two games against Scarlets in the RDS tomorrow, then away to Exeter a week later, combined with favours from elsewhere, to reach the last eight.

"You don't end up in a situation like this without a few regrets," said Schmidt, who until this season had only lost one Heineken Cup game in his reign as head coach.

"I remember the week prior to the Round 4 game and I certainly had regrets. We were in that game in Clermont and we feel we probably had a couple of opportunities to steal a win or at least get a draw. Not doing that is a regret. Not having as much firepower as we would have liked is a regret but there are a lot of positives as well.

"You always feel that there is a little bit of stuff that goes your way, then the other way, but probably less has gone our way this year. We have to influence that as best we can, with the things we can control, and get things right this week."

His counterpart this week, Scarlets' former Ireland flanker Simon Easterby, has pinpointed the return of the Lions three-quarter stars as a key element of tomorrow's fixture.

"They've brought quite a bit of quality back into their team which will add to their performance," said Easterby, whose side have suffered successive tonkings in the Pro12 and have nothing to play for but pride in Europe.

"They will be very, very disappointed with the Clermont loss but glad to have got away with a 9-6 win over Exeter. That's what Leinster are good at – not playing well but winning games. Jonny Sexton is running things for them very competently and is right on top of his game following a good autumn series. Brian is obviously huge for them."

Schmidt (left) indicated that he will use Ulster's impressive bonus-point victory in Ravenhill last Friday – when they only led 9-3 at half-time – as an encouraging template.

"Ulster did a good job against the Scarlets last week to build scoreboard pressure," he said.

"They didn't play any differently to how they normally play but they did score a number of tries late in the game. If you can build scoreboard pressure you tend to force the other team to open up the way they are playing, and maybe that is the way to force a result."

Irish Independent

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